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Nintendo 3DS GPU revealed

Video GamesNews
by Staff Writer
, 21 Jun 2010News

Now that Nintendo has officially revealed its new 3DS console to the masses, we're starting to get an insight into the specs of the new handheld gizmo. The GPU has just been revealed, and it's not made by Nvidia, ATI or even Imagination Technologies.

Instead, Nintendo has signed up Japanese start-up Digital Media Professionals (DMP) in a deal that sees the company's PICA200 chip churning out the 3D visuals visuals.  

Those of you who follow the handheld graphics business might know this isn't actually a new chip. In fact, work started on the PICA200 back in 2005, and it was even shown off at Siggraph at 2006.

However, when you consider that the original DS has been around since 2004, and has a similar level of graphical oomph to the N64, you can see this is still a big deal for the DS. 

For the first time in Nintendo's history, the 3DS will feature a GPU with programmable shaders, rather than a fixed-function pipeline. Neither the GameCube nor even the Wii had programmable shaders, meaning there was some truth in earlier rumours suggesting the 3DS would be more powerful than the Wii in some areas.  

Of course, it's not going to rival even a basic PC GPU from today, but it'll still provide a massive boost in 3D processing power to the DS. Among the PICA200's features are 2x anti-aliasing, per-pixel lighting, subdivision primitives and soft shadows. As well as featuring DMP's own "Maestro" extensions, the PICA200 also fully supports OpenGL ES 1.1.  

The architecture supports four programmable vertex units and up to four pixel pipelines. As a simplified point of comparison, the specs aren't far off the GeForce 3-based GPU found in the original Xbox console. There are a few disappointments, though. For example, the PICA200 only supports bilinear filtering, as opposed to the vastly superior anisotropic filtering, or even trilinear filtering, found on current GPUs.  

There's no word on specific clock speeds or performance yet, but previous documentation for the PICA200 stated that it could be clocked at up to 400MHz. DMP claimed that a 200MHz PICA200 can process around 800 million pixels a second, and 15.3 million polygons a second.  

If you want to see what the PICA200 is theoretically capable of, then it's worth checking out DMP's Mikage demo it developed with Futuremark to show off the PICA200 back in 2006. It's only a demo with a single moving character, but it looks massively superior to everything else we've had on the DS so far.  

Speaking about its Maestro extensions, DMP proudly claimed that with "hardware implementation of complex shader functionality, these extensions allow the high-performance graphics rendering found on existing high-end products to be realised on mobile devices with low power consumption requirements."  

DMP's president Tatsuo Yamamoto said the company, "had a very ambitious goal in the realisation of naked-eye 3D stereo vision, and video game console-style high-quality graphics rendering, whilst maintaining low power consumption." He added that he was "delighted" to have come up with the answer in the form of the company's Maestro technology.  

Nintendo has reportedly been in talks with all the major graphics companies about the GPU in the 3DS. Graphics industry analyst Jon Peddie claims the company has been "experimenting" with kit from ATI, ARM, Imagination Technologies and Nvidia, but made the decision to use the PICA200 over a year ago.

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